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September 2, 2007

Under The Knife

Skip the Schadenfreude

by Will Carroll

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Don't gloat. While MLB has taken far more than its share of public scorn over the steroid issue, the fact that the NFL is now headed into an HGH scandal isn't time for MLB fans to throw a "told you so." Instead, it's time to try and figure out what the proper response will be when this scandal hits baseball. After the Albany, New York District Attorney's office finished its case against a couple mail order pharmacies that weren't following standard procedures, the office called the offices of several sports, MLB among them, and offered to share information. The WWE saw better than ten athletes get suspended, including two of their champions, and Rodney Harrison is just the first of what I'm told will be "more than ten" NFL athletes. The story published at Yahoo by Josh Peter may have come from the same type of sources, though Peter-the man who broke the BALCO source-has proven himself in this arena.

Baseball has already asserted its power of the non-analytical positive, punishing a player under the steroid policy in the absence of a positive test in the Jason Grimsley decision, but this could go further. Getting this right is another opportunity for Bud Selig and his administration to put MLB at the forefront of truly driving performance enhancers out of the sport, as well as making Selig's legacy less tainted by a crisis he ignored too long.

Powered by SI's coverage of this story, which was spot on, ahead of the curve, and factual, on to the injuries:

  • The Cardinals made a smart move, grabbing Russell Branyan before anyone knew that Scott Rolen was heading to the DL. Behind the scenes, sources tell me that the Cards had been looking around for a while, making very casual inquiries. According to one source but not confirmed by anyone with the Cardinals, the plan was that Rolen would go to the DL to rest if they could find a bat of better than replacement level. Branyan fits the bill, while also providing Tony La Russa with a power bat off the bench once Rolen is back.

    The news isn't so good on Juan Encarnacion. The foul ball he took off of his face was a devastating reminder of the power of a baseball. He has multiple fractures of his face, and due to the swelling they're not sure whether he's lost any sight in that eye. He couldn't have had it much worse, and I'll spare you some of the gorier details, but let's say that Albert Pujols deserves some credit for how he handled the situation. Encarnacion is done for the year, and we can only hope he gets the chance to come back sometime in the future.

  • As I'd been saying for a couple weeks now, I didn't anticipate that Pedro Martinez would make all of his planned rehab starts. After his second outing-the one where he proved he had a bit more life in his fastball and was making all his pitches-I anticipated his coming up in the first week of September. Not moving up made me doubt my instinct, but after his "phenomenal" side session for the brass as the Mets played in Atlanta on Friday, the move was made-Martinez will return Monday against the Reds. While this sounds like a 'soft landing,' the Reds have actually been a solid hitting team over the past month or so. Martinez is likely to be limited to something in the vicinity of 80 pitches, but the key for him will be efficiency. If those 80 pitches or slightly more can only get him through five innings, the Mets pen will be taxed and his value goes down. My educated guess? We're going to see a month of good, if not vintage, Pedro.
  • Those of you that have criticized me about the "Rule of 30" and its application to Cole Hamels are right-he did have an extra 40 innings in the minors in 2006 that would technically keep him out of the Rule's zone until he hit the magic 200 mark. What I failed to explain is that I've been doing some behind the scenes crunching on this rule. Keep in mind that it's really more of a suggestion based on a study done at ASMI that uses a different number, but it's shown me that those minor league innings, at least in terms of workload, don't count. Not just have to be translated, but flat-out don't count. The problem is that I need to do a much broader study to make sure that I'm not making a mistake (something I make, especially when it involves math) and that the innings do count at some point. So let's call this one a split. The fact is that Hamels' injury history and acknowledged elbow problems trump any medhead rule. Hamels had a setback during a side session, feeling pain as he extended his arm. He'll be shut down another week, making any return this season less of a likelihood than it seemed just a few days ago. The Phillies will continue hoping that he can come back and pitch them into the playoffs, so the efforts to have him rehab will continue until the Phils are eliminated.
  • Tim Wakefield threw off the Red Sox rotation a bit when his back acted up, but this is something that the team was not only ready for, they'd actually planned for something like it. Julian Tavarez slotted in without much fanfare and kept the rest of the Sox rotation on their turns. Tavarez is option one for any Sox starter that has to be skipped, but he'd had a bit of warning because Wakefield's back has been a bit balky the last few times out. If last year was any indication, the knuckleballer comes back from any health issue pretty quickly. In the long term, Wakefield is likely to shift to the pen once the playoffs start anyway to offer manager Terry Francona some extra flexibility, so this shouldn't be much of an October problem.
  • So the Jays admit that Wells was injured when they signed him, but decided that insurance was too costly. I think what they mean to say is that he couldn't have passed the physical. Wells' chronic shoulder problems haven't affected his play or availability over the last couple seasons, so the degradation that he's allegedly dealing with now seems a bit odd. If the shoulder is degrading-not unlike what we've seen with Scott Rolen-then both his ability to play the field over the duration of his contract as well as his ability to hit to the standards his salary demands are called into question. While the power numbers are down slightly, I'm not sure that's not more run environment than injury at this stage, but that's another way of trying to excuse the return on investment for a team with plenty of problems heading into next season.
  • Eric Chavez was already chalking up 2007 as a lost season, but now it's official. On a team defined by it's willingness to accept risk, but then get bitten by it, it's a question if Chavez is even the best example. His fall from MVP candidate to forgotten player has been as rapid as I can remember, with many questioning whether his signing was the tipping point for the franchise's fortunes. The better question would be whether Chavez can return to something approaching his peak form. For an answer, I'm looking across the country to Mike Lowell. Like Chavez, Lowell fell apart in his last season with the Marlins, then was reborn in Boston. I'm not saying he needs a trade to come back, just that Chavez is probably more likely to come back at the age of 30 than Lowell was at age-31. This situation is just one of many that should have the A's asking themselves about their innumerable player breakdowns this season.
  • The most frequently-asked question of the week is, "Is something wrong with Carlos Zambrano?" The question came in both before and after the Cubs traded for Steve Trachsel, but they got more colorful, shall we say, after the deal was announced. Zambrano doesn't look the same, but he's not the scuffling Zambrano who couldn't find his arm slot or release point at the start of the season. One would assume that the Cubs got a pretty good physical on Zambrano before he signed his big deal, but there's actually no report of its happening. It looks like Trachsel was signed to be depth to protect the back of the rotation, but I don't blame people for wondering about Zambrano. Certainly, I'm watching closely.
  • Where's Francisco Liriano, you ask? He's still in Ft. Myers, and working out at the Twins facility, but observers there have seen him playing long toss more regularly. He's on track to throw off a mound over the winter, but the Twins are adamant that he will not pitch in winter ball. Instead, the first time we see him should be the start of spring training, when we'll see whether the rehab and the mechanical work he's done pay off with a healthy and effective pitcher to pair with or replace Johan Santana.
  • Quick Cuts: Mark Mulder looked better, but not great, in his last rehab start. He's on track to start mid-week. ... Kenny Rogers has a bullpen session scheduled today to see if he'll be ready for a Wednesday start. ... Noah Lowry misses a start, causing the Giants to shuffle their roster. They were already planning on limiting Tim Lincecum's workload the rest of the way, but if Lowry is out longer than one start, that plan may have to change. ... The Angels called up Richard Thompson to shoot out the lights. Sorry, couldn't resist. ... Anyone out there a car dealer? My lease is almost up and if I can give business to a reader, why not? .. Russ Ortiz had Tommy John surgery to go with his flexor tendon repair. He'll miss 2008, and perhaps decide to end his career. ... The Twins seem to be leaning towards shutting down Glen Perkins to protect his sore shoulder.

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